In bright spot for GOP, major gains in House

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / November 3, 2010

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Republicans substantially increased their numbers in the Legislature last night, reversing years of declines on Beacon Hill and providing one of the election’s few bright spots for the state GOP.

“This is the first time in 20 years that Republicans have had such massive gains in the House of Representatives,’’ said GOP party chairwoman Jennifer Nassour. “Our candidates were speaking to the voters and listening to the voters.’’

Among those Democratic incumbents who lost to Republicans were Bill Bowles of Attleboro, Allen J. McCarthy of East Bridgewater, Steven D’Amico of Seekonk, Mark Falzone of Saugus, Barbara L’Italien of Andover, and Paul Kujawski of Webster. Representatives Gerald Alicea of Charlton and James Fagan of Taunton lost by narrow margins, but Democrats were preparing to dispute those results.

“I have no idea what happened,’’ said Kujawski, struggling to explain his defeat. “Sometimes people’s expectations are far greater than what anyone can deliver. This must be one of those times.’’

In the Senate, Republicans lost the open seat held by Richard Tisei, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Democratic state Representative Katherine Clark of Melrose will succeed Tisei after defeating her GOP challenger, Malden city councilor Craig Spadafora.

No incumbent senator was unseated, and all eight open Senate seats went to Democrats, according to Senate President Therese Murray, who had a tough campaign of her own. Murray, whose district is among the most conservative in the state, beat Republican Thomas F. Keyes, with about 53 percent of the vote.

“We’ve been working at this for a while,’’ Murray said last night. “We had so many people from out of state come in from far-right organizations that we needed to run a big coordinated campaign.’’

In the House, Republicans said they had doubled their numbers in early returns, from 15 to 30, but Democrats were holding out hope they could eke out victories in two of those races. Republicans lost one of five Senate seats.

Many other lawmakers beat back challenges from tough opponents. The winners included Representative Theodore Speliotis of Danvers, who beat a Danvers selectman and owner of a real estate agency, Daniel Bennett, and Representative Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, a freshman, who defeated Republican Katherine Kozitza of Swampscott.

In races for open House seats, results were mixed. In Billerica, Republican Marc Lombardo defeated two opponents to fill the seat held by Representative William Greene, a Democrat who decided not to run for reelection.

In Braintree, Democrat Mark Cusack defeated independent candidate Paul Clifford to fill the open seat vacated by Representative Joseph Driscoll.

Two winners last night became the first Asian-Americans elected to the state legislature. Tackey Chan of Quincy, a former assistant attorney general and aide to Senator Michael Morrissey, beat two opponents, while Donald Wong, the owner of the Kowloon restaurant, beat Falzone.

Former Lowell mayor Eileen Donoghue was beating two opponents to win the open Senate seat held by Steven Panagiatakos, who did not run for reelection.

Senator Susan Fargo of Lincoln survived a challenge by Sandi Martinez, a three time Republican candidate from Chelmsford who helped found the Greater Lowell Tea Party.

Alderman Paul Brodeur of Melrose beat Republican David Lucas in the race to succeed Clark. Republican officials had predicted Lucas would win that seat.

McCarthy lost to Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Finance Committee member and sign company account executive. The candidates had battled over taxes and immigration reform, with Diehl arguing the state is spending too much on both. McCarthy, who acknowledged he was in a tough battle, got fund-raising and other help from House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, according to members of DeLeo’s leadership team.

Republican Representative Daniel Webster of Pembroke survived a challenge from Josh Cutler of Duxbury. Cutler, the editor of the Duxbury Clipper newspaper until he stepped down to run, had jumped on Webster’s spotty attendance record and his record of collecting expense payments, called per diems, even when he was not at the State House.

As the night unfolded, Democrats feared the hotly contested congressional race between Perry and Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating could cost them seats on the South Shore.

“We’re watching the 35 races from Quincy south,’’ said Representative Patricia Haddad, who coordinated the campaign effort for DeLeo. “There is a potential Perry effect. They will pull out a totally different demographic than we’ve seen in the past.’’

Representative Matthew Patrick of Falmouth, a liberal Democrat, appeared to be one of the casualties. He was losing to Republican David Vieira of Falmouth, who was endorsed by the Cape Cod Times. Vieira, an official of the Barnstable County sheriff’s office, has served as town meeting moderator. Patrick has been an outspoken critic of the leadership on Beacon Hill, challenging a resistant DeLeo to detail hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills the House paid in connection with the federal investigation of former House speaker Salvatore DiMasi.

Patrick faced tough challenges before. In 2002, he won reelection by just 17 votes.

Other incumbents faced aggressive challengers. Nine term representative James Fagan of Taunton was defeated by Republican Shaunna O’Connell, also of Taunton, in a contentious battle. O’Connell recently distributed a mailer that that came with a 20-second audio clip of Fagan railing on the House floor against a bill to increase minimum mandatory sentences for sex offenders.

Globe correspondents Jessica Bartlett, Matt Byrne, Megan McKee, and Katrina Ballard contributed to this report.